Consuming Issues: Hey big spender, it's all down to your genes

If you love chocolate, like me, you may be able to blame something other than considerable greed if you no longer fit into your jeans: your genes. Research is shedding light on the reasons we sometimes like things, or engage in risky behaviour.

We already know that genes decide what we look like, and can predispose us to getting illnesses such as heart disease, cancer, and even attention deficit disorder (though in most cases lifestyle appears to be a more important factor).

But until now relatively little research has been done into how genes affect our behaviour in the shops. A fascinating new academic study suggests that many decisions we have hitherto assumed were down to our free will alone are influenced by our genetic make-up.

Whether we like chocolate and how reckless we are may all have a significant heritable element, according to the authors Itamar Simonson, of Stanford University and Aner Sala, of Florida University, in the US. They reviewed existing scientific papers on genes and personality and also tested 360 twins. Of these, there were 110 pairs of monoxygotic (identical) twins and 60 pairs of dizygotic (non-identical) twins.

By using twins, who share the same family background, the researchers hoped to screen out the impact of 'nurture' while identifying the "nature" influencing genetically identical twins but missing from genetically dissimilar twins.

What they found was strong evidence that "prudence" – an individual's balance of risk and caution – is strongly heritable. When presented with a "vice or virtue" choice, having chocolate (pleasurable) or batteries (useful), identical twins were much more likely to share their twin's choice of utilitarian/non-utilitarian options. Similar but less strong similarities were noticed in another "vice or virtue" test, whether to buy groceries (boring but useful) or have a massage (enjoyable but less useful).

Strong genetic responses were also identified in tests on risk-taking behaviour and delayed gratification.

The study, published in the Journal of Consumer Research, went further than these personality tests and ascertained both types of twins' liking for a wide range of consumer products. Genes seem to play a particularly important role in influencing an individual preference for mustard, dark chocolate, hybrid cars, opera and science fiction. Less strong genetic similarities were detected for milk chocolate and jazz.

Conversely, there seems to be no genetic influence on our liking for many other products and activities: abstract art, body-piercing, tattoos, heavy metal, roller-coasters, coriander, coffee, tomato ketchup, liquorice, iPhones, and even Facebook. We like those purely because we like them.

The authors speculated that in future businesses may be able to market certain products, such as chocolate, at specific members of the public whose genetic information is available, perhaps through voluntary genetic testing. Perhaps in the 22nd century, instead of the police identifying criminals before they do anything wrong – the far-fetched plot of the Tom Cruise film Minority Report – corporations may be able to identify customers before they buy anything.

A more prosaic way of looking at the research is to consider that if you're in debt, hanker for 70 per cent cocoa chocolate, or adore Bizet, you may merely be following a secret dance programmed for you at birth. The authors write of prudence: "Some people may be born with a tendency to be 'in the mainstream' whereas others tend to 'live on the edge'."

"My genes made me splurge on credit cards" – now that's an excuse the bank manager may not have heard before ...

Heroes and villains: Co-op wins readers' voteon animal welfare

Hero: The Co-op

This week the grocery chain won the People's Choice award at the RSPCA Good Business awards in London. Among its achievements, the Co-op sells only Freedom Food, free range or organic eggs, and its own-brand beef comes from cattle reared outdoors. Almost 15,000 voted in the award, sponsored by The Independent. Thank you.

Villian: Daily Express

The Express keeps running dodgy readers' offers. This week the Advertising Standards Authority banned its £20.70 "buy one get one free" offer for an "Alpine Army" watch. It turned out the watch normally costs £9.95 plus post and packing. The Express blamed a production error. Funny how often things seem to go wrong there.

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Finacial products from our partners
Property search
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Swiss Banking and Finance

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped commission: SThree: Can you speak German,...

    Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - 6 month FTC - Central London

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An exciting opportunity f...

    Ashdown Group: Junior Project Manager (website, web application) - Agile

    £215 per day: Ashdown Group: Junior Project Manager (website, web application ...

    Guru Careers: Software Engineer / Software Developer

    £40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software Engineer / Softw...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power